Shovel Knight is without a doubt one of the best games I've ever played. Here's why!
I wasn't sure what to think of Shovel Knight when I first approached it. In fact the purchase was a shot in the dark for me. A friend recommended the game and I decided to bite the bullet and buy the game, not knowing much about its Kickstarter roots. As per a recommendation from one of the editors of Destructoid, I purchased the Wii U version because of its added Miiverse and gamepad functionality. It should be noted that the core game is basically on par between all versions, so you should seriously consider picking this up if you agree with this review.
Shovel Knight is a retro styled platforming game where you take on the role of the titular Shovel Knight. He is a knight who fights things with a shovel. Literally! The story is that the evil Enchantress has cursed the land and filled it with baddies and of course it falls on the player's head to stop them. Right off the bat, you can see just how much inspiration was taken for this game. The better aspects of the Mega Man and Super Mario games are here and perfectly balanced for a modern gamer.
The pixel graphics are quite charming and the character animations are very smooth. The game runs very smoothly in motion and compliment the gameplay quite well. I was pleasantly surprised by how much personality is present in the visuals despite the simplistic art style. Some may take issue with the use 8-bit visuals, but it makes good use of the style and does not make it feel gimmicky.
The music is composed beautifully, to say the least. I have yet to find a single track in the game that isn't very catchy. Best of all, you can find sheet music and give them to a music man in one of the towns to play for you. The sound effects also have a lovely retro feel to them. If you remember what an NES explosion sounds like, you will definitely be relishing in those sorts of sounds in Shovel Knight. Everything sounds as it should and I cannot think of any flaws for it.
Playing the game is an absolute treat in almost every single way. The game responds remarkably well to the controller just as an NES type game should and rightfully so as the level design often demands some precise platforming and attacking. Shovel Knight can jump, attack and use side attacks that take up what is essentially magic such as fireballs and brief invulnerability. Shovel Knight can also aim down while jumping to pogo attack with his shovel which causes you to satisfyingly bounce off of enemies. This is very handy against enemies who jump a lot. You can also upgrade Shovel Knight with new attacks, better armor and buy more magic and health. Because of this, there is a necessity to upgrade and become stronger which creates a strong sense of progression. You also cannot just farm and buy everything all at once. Eventually the game stops letting you buy upgrades and forces you to continue. I felt the game is balanced just enough where it's not too hard or too easy. The only gripe I have which is a very minor one is that if Shovel Knight is struck or hurt, he flies backwards a little. Sometimes this is just enough to send you flying to your death in a bottomless pit which can be a huge frustration depending on if you are speed running or if you broke a checkpoint for gold. It is a mostly forgivable offense though.
Bosses and mini-bosses are extra fun. Each one needs to be approached with an equal amount of speed and caution to not only inflict as much damage as possible but also to avoid taking damage yourself. The Shakespearean dialogue between Shovel Knight and the enemies is always very humorous and charming and defeating them fills you with a sense of accomplishment, like you just overcame a huge real life obstacle. Without bosses, the progression in the game would not feel nearly as empowering.
Words cannot at all describe how much love I developed for this game or how quickly it came. I loved Shovel Knight for just being a purely fun, classic love letter to retro game fans and still being fun for those of us who mostly prefer modern games. If you like platformers, don't miss out. This game will surely not disappoint regardless of what platform you buy it on.